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Category: Faith

On a Curious Spirituality

December 19, 2023

Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.

e.e. cummings

It is five o’clock in the morning, or maybe it is even earlier, the house dark in the winter morning, the dogs vibrating at the back door in eager enthusiasm while I sit at the kitchen table getting reluctantly ready for the dawning day, and as I do, I see movement from the corner of my eye, movement out the glass door, movement across the still moonlit frost heavy grass as a mouse scurries from the corner of the chicken coop, a warm haven with its light still on to convince the chickens that it is soft summer despite the stinging chill. I watch the small animal run in the cold and the dark, watch until it hides itself behind the trunk of the pear tree in a clump of stiff grass, and I wait a moment or two before I let the dogs out to follow the trail gone cold as they complain with much sniffing and snuffling and sad sighs over the loss of small prey. 

For some reason I thought of it all day, this small moment, come and gone before the sun rose, before the house woke, before we were all bustling and busy and burdened with schedules and lists and the to-dos of trivial tasks.

I am, I have come to find over the years, a lover of the small moments that go overlooked.

I yearn for long, leisurely mornings when the sun, just tipping over the edge of the mountains, can find me still in bed, wrapped warmly in blankets and cozy socks with my husband, my dogs, and my thoughts to keep me company.

I long for warm, gilt-edged afternoons with nothing to do but savor simple tasks, like making buttered toast, or folding towels, or playing in the grass, and sure, I bring along a dog or two, or borrow a niece or a nephew or a neighbor, in case it seems odd, at my age, to want to walk barefoot over the earth with toes dug deep in the soft soil and the springy sod, but that might be the point of it really, isn’t it? That we have lost something as we have succumbed to the need to be forever busy and forever moving and forever finding new tasks on a never ending list we check off as if it is a lifeline that keeps our heads above a rapidly rising tide. 

The messages are clear. We are most valued when we are valuable, when we are engaged and engaging, when we put up the painful pretense of productivity, when we keep our wheels spinning like plates in the air, like balls, like bowling pins, like swords, only to be surprised when we fail, when we fall. When it all crashes down and we find ourselves sliced on the sharp-edged guilt of having done less than we were supposed to do, than we were told, than we were expected. 

We ask ourselves, what is the value of labor, but do we stop to ask what is the value of doing nothing at all? 

And no, I don’t mean wiling away the hours in front of television, or spending our days and nights with faces lit by the dim blue glow of devices, isolated and alone. I mean long walks with friends and family and children and dogs, getting mud on the edges of our pants, and dirt under our nails, pointing out the first blooming blush of a willow tree, the dip of the dragonfly, the sound the wind makes as it rustles through the tips of the trees, as it howls down the canyon near our home. I mean sitting and watching the dart and dash of a mouse across a frozen lawn and wondering at the way even the smallest life can withstand the chill.

I am dedicated to the small moments. 

Photo credit: Stanley Kustamin via Unsplash

To the single drop of rain that runs down the windowpane as I wonder whether it will reach its destination before it runs out of water, even as I reach out and drip drop drip a little more in its path to help. 

To the branch outside my bedroom window that rubs against the house, the percussive accompaniment to every midnight wind as I tell myself that in the morning I will look for which one it is and that we will trim it—and by we I mean that I will point to the right branch while my husband employs the shears, for I am not to be trusted with ladders or heights or really anything that requires balance as my daughter pointed out last night when I stubbed my toe on nothing at all—but the thought of it, the sense of a task to complete evaporates like frost in the morning sun and the next time the wind blows I hear the branch again, tap tap tapping a comforting beat, faithful and familiar in the dark. 

To the sparrow on the edge of the bird feeder outside of my door, hung precariously in the twisted limbs of the pear tree that grew gangly because I did not know how best to prune it when it was young, and to the puppy sniffling around in the dirt underneath, lapping up the crusts and crumbs that have fallen from the grasping grip of eager birds gathered overhead.

There is a sense of the divine in these small moments. A curious kind of peace in the putting off of business and busyness.

It is the questions, I think, that draw me in. The unknown and the unknowing, and the possibility of endless creative curiosity. 

Curiosity speaks to me, a curiosity that is only possible when we slow down and look around and watch the world spin. Curiosity is the space to ask questions, and the room to wonder, and an endless variety of paths to wander down. Curiosity is a spiritual act, and what is spirituality, if not a wandering, meandering stroll through the things we know, the things we experience, and the things we hope for? What is spirituality if not curiosity fed and watered by attention and time? 

We knew curiosity, once. When we were smaller and younger and less concerned with what others might think. When we chased butterflies and picked up small rocks and tucked pockets full of dirt away to save for sometime special. 

It is something I think we lost when we rolled up the naptime mats and put away the snacks and forgot that once upon a time a wild rambling walk through the woods was a part of the everyday, a part of learning and experiencing, a questing and questioning that drew our attention to the weird and wonderful, the overlooked and the ordinary. Curiosity is a thing that happens not in the frantic, frenetic bustle, but in quieter, smaller moments of vast imagination, as we sit in darkened rooms and watch mice scamper in the warm light of a chicken coop in the cold predawn of a winter’s day. 

We forget that. We forget to look at what is right in front of us, or maybe we just forget to look at all. We see through a glass darkly, as the scriptures say, and we imagine frosted windows and smudged glass, and dim and indistinct images on the other side of a firmly closed door, but we overlook the rest, the second part of that same line, the part that seems to say that we will understand better once we are face to face, that we will come to know as we are known, which implies that it is important to know ourselves, and essential to know one another—to pay attention, to stop, to pause, to procrastinate the race, or to forget about starting in the first place, for as the poet Mary Oliver says, every moment is heavy with miracle if only we learn to see

Lead photo credit: Danielle Dolson via Unsplash